Rhetoric – Outrage

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Language

One of the most interesting things about the rhetoric used by the BDS “movement” and similar Israel-disliking organizations is that the BDSers’ life on the psychological extreme (discussed here) means that the rhetorical tactics they employ also tend towards the extreme.

When one is dealing with a “normal” political situation, even one as heated as our upcoming Presidential campaign, there are forces that keep discussion within general bounds of civility.  Certainly candidates will drop innuendos about their opponent’s inadequacy for the job, while surrogates get much more specific and accusatory.  But the simple fact that a candidate feels the need to be perceived as even-tempered and fair (even if he or she counts on others to do the dirty work) implies an understanding that public discourse needs to follow certain civilized rules.

The public is also interested in variety, which means using the same tactic over and over again is likely to bring diminishing returns, especially if that tactic is perceived as controversial or extreme.  And one of the rhetoric tactics that tends to wear out its welcome fast is Argumentation from Outrage.

Argumentation from Outrage is considered in informal fallacy, that is a fallacy not based on breaking any formal logical rules (such as All Dogs are Animals, All Cats are Animals, therefore all Dogs are Cats – a formal fallacy which is wrong even if you substitute letters, imaginary animals or nonsense words for Cats, Dogs and Animals).  But with an informal fallacy, the actual content of the argument is relevant or, in the case of Argumentation from Outrage, how that content is presented.

Argumentation from Outrage is usually brought up in discussions of cable TV or radio political talk show hosts who seem to be able to break into a screaming fit at the slightest provocation.  Just spend ten minutes watching Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews shrieking at a guest for doing nothing more than correcting their grammar and you understand the phenomenon.

In that context, Argumentation from Outrage is meant to short circuit reasonable debate by raising the temperature to such a degree that the only choices an opponent to the screamer has are to (1) capitulate; or (2) begin screaming back (usually a losing proposition for a talk show guest inexperienced at public howling who does not control the microphone or editing booth).  And while such a tactic may play well to a talk show’s fan base which gathers to watch their hero put wrong-minded guests in their place, most people who play in politics put the brakes on such tactics (especially when playing before a mixed audience of friends, foes and undecideds).

But as we have seen, people playing the BDS game have no such brakes for the simple reason that “the audience” for them are not real people, but simply props in a fantasy-laden drama going on in the boycotters own heads.  Which is why if you point out the inconsistencies in their arguments, they’ll fly into a rage.  If you point out their hypocrisy of snoozing while Hamas missiles fly but rousing themselves into righteous fury when Israel shoots back, they’ll fly into an even bigger rage.  If you point out that their “movement” draws its strength from being aligned with the needs and goals of wealthy and powerful states, they will burst a blood vessel.  In fact, doing or saying anything that challenges their self-perception as courageous and virtuous human-rights champions speaking truth to power means it’s just a matter of seconds before someone’s face is two inches from yours shrieking abuse and spewing saliva (either literally or virtually – although without the saliva when this dynamic plays out in online debate – as it inevitably does).

The point of Argumentation from Outrage is to raise the discomfort level so high that people will avoid further attacking (or even questioning) the person having the tantrum.  Most normal people, after all, don’t like being in situations where emotions are running red hot.  And a boycotter losing an argument knows this, which is why they tend to explode so readily in hope of making it impossible for normal debate to continue.

This helps to explain why anti-Israel “dialog” tends to be so shrill.  I have frequently teased certain writers (like those responsible for this Muzzlewatch site) of starting their writing in a snit and then working themselves into frenzy of accusation and fury.  But if you think about it, starting an argument in a state of outrage is yet another way of avoiding a debate you know you cannot win.

The trouble (for the BDSers anyway) is this perpetual outrage is used to justify all kinds of behavior that – as mentioned previously – tends not to play well with a general audience which does NOT like to be patted down on the way to class by a bunch of Israel haters dressed up in Israeli soldier costumes during some campus protest, does NOT like to have their concerts or theatre performances interrupted by people shrieking slogans and waving banners, and does NOT trust people who seem to be shouting, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it.

Not only are these tactics counter-productive in and of themselves, but they also tend to get old and tired rather quickly.  Which may help explain why the boycotters seem to be having such a difficult time getting anyone to notice them these days, much less take them seriously.

Next… Association

Hagaddah

One of the few good things about the Web savviness of Israel’s opponents is that you sometimes get to see all of the hypocrisy and clownishness of the BDS “movement” by simply visiting a single Web site.  And nowhere is this efficiency more on display than at the site of my West Coast friends’ favorite organization: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

JVP has been a subject on this site more than any other BDS organization, perhaps because they tend to show up whenever the letters B, D and S appear at any time and in any combination in order to throw in their “As Jews, we approve!” boilerplate, while simultaneously denouncing accusations of anti-Semitism (whether or not they are ever made) and wrapping their message in a kaffiyeh (which they claim to be a prayer shawl).

But in all the years I’ve been visiting JVP-land, I don’t think I’ve ever seen them put all of their pathologies online as much as they have in the last few weeks.

First up, you’ve got to wonder “what were they thinking?” when you watch them celebrate their own success in getting someone censored (in this case, a group of visiting Israeli gay activists) smack in the middle of a list of other stories decrying their own alleged victimization from censorship.

This form of doublethink first came to my attention when I ran across the JVP site Muzzlewatch a few years back, a site supposedly dedicated to shining light on attempts to stifle free speech (JVP’s) in discussion of the Middle East conflict.  During a six month period of challenging their accusations in a freewheeling comments section, it became clear that for Muzzlewatch’s creators, “free speech” meant their own freedom to do and say anything they wanted without being criticized while “muzzling” meant other people using their own free speech rights to say something JVP didn’t like.

Back then, the Muzzlewatchers attempted to justify their own textbook censorship (in that case, of participating in a lawsuit designed to get the media to shut up about a local controversial issue), by artlessly trying to convince readers that their act of attempted censorship was designed to encourage (rather than discourage) discussion (huh?). You can see this same convoluted logic on display in their current characterization of visiting gay Israelis as not actually interested in “open dialog” (defined by JVP of course), thus making it reasonable to shut them up and down.

If you combine this with JVP’s support for like-minded allies who have started shouting and heckling Israeli speakers from the stage, you’ll quickly discover what I learned years ago: that JVP is simply a partisan organization dedicated to its own side’s victory and its opponent’s defeat.  And in this struggle to achieve their ends, all means are allowed, including bastardizing the language of free speech and open dialog (just like they turn words like “peace” and “justice” into weapons of war), knowing full well that it is their opponents who actually possess these virtues that JVP only feigns.

This contradictory behavior plays out particularly clearly when you look at the challenges JVP (and similar organizations) face in trying to portray themselves as open (and even starved) for dialog, while simultaneously doing everything in their power to ensure “dialog” only consists of them saying what they want (from any forum they demand) without challenge.

For example, a few months back JVP’s “Youth Wing” rolled out their Go and Learn campaign and proudly announced they would welcome any and all (including critics) who wanted to talk about their beloved BDS project.  Now as one of those opponents they claim to crave debate with, I swiftly provided them an invitation to begin this dialog immediately.  And to my surprise, they published my comment on their site (although the ability to submit further comments somehow disappeared in the process).

Well here we are months later and despite follow-up e-mails I’ve sent the group, all that’s happened is that my original comment has been disappeared from their site, continuing JVP’s unbroken track record of greedily controlling their own public spaces at all cost while simultaneously shrieking to Gaia whenever anyone else refuses to hand their platforms (and money) over to them.

Later this year, I’m hoping to focus on some of the rhetorical and argumentation techniques necessary to present this type of unquestionable hypocrisy as moral virtue.  But before we get there, it needs to be pointed out that the first victims of the flimflam JVP and other BDSers spend so much time selling are the boycotters themselves.

It would be easy to dismiss their behavior as simply cynical and manipulative.  But no amount of cynicism could possibly explain this latest release on the JVP hit parade: their own version of the Passover Hagaddah, complete with “The Israelis are the new Egyptian Pharos!” words and imagery, delivered with the same subtlety as having a cinder block dropped on your head.

One is first tempted to simply stare dumbfounded at the combination of historic ignorance and cultural contempt required to cast the Jews as the villains in their own foundation story.  Even in an era when Passover readings and rituals have been leveraged for every imaginable political purpose (featuring Hagaddah’s written specifically for those of the woman’s rights, civil rights, Zionist and transgender perspectives), JVP’s foray into this long-abused genre sets a new precedent for utter tastelessness and self indulgence.  It is truly a work that could only have been contemplated (much less executed) by those whose universe consists of nothing but themselves.

But fear not readers.  For even a bit of sober psychologizing has not prevented me from sicing the Divest This dumpster-diving crew on the task of unearthing material that might help us better grasp JVP’s latest groundbreaking work.

Stay tuned…

PennBDS – Hillel and Questions of JVP

This is part of a series of articles based on the program of the upcoming PennBDS conference.  Check out this landing page to find out more.
 
With a panel discussion entitled “BDS, Hillel and the Question of Anti-Semitism,” our old friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) finally take center stage on the PennBDS agenda.

As regulars reader know, JVP has been the topic of several seriousand not-so-serious discussions here at Divest This.  But since these PennBDS-related postings seem to be evolving towards capstone essays on subjects I’ve been writing about for several years, it’s worth taking time to highlight the significance of the JVP organization and the subjects it has chosen to talk about at the upcoming national BDS conference.

Starting with the obvious, Jewish Voice for Peace is an organization made up primarily (although not entirely) of Jews who advocate for BDS and engage in other activities which are anathema not just to people like me but to the bulk of the American Jewish community (organized and disorganized).

Now some people I know get totally bent out of shape that in any BDS debate the leadership of both sides will likely be Jewish.  Personally, I simply take this as a fact of life and while I’ve touched on the subject of Jewish involvement (and even leadership) in anti-Israel activity, getting into a frenzy about the phenomena is about as effective as a Medieval general complaining that his enemy’s cavalry make use of horses.

Like any political group, JVP is free to organize, take positions on issues and engage in the age-old branding exercise of putting the words like “Peace” and “Justice” in their name and mission statements.  They are also free to advocate for thing like BDS and all kinds of other goals that other Jewish community members and organizations oppose, although they must live with the reality that as a group pushing a minority opinion, they are obliged to win over others via the force of their arguments and the willingness to engage with their critics.

But this is the very thing that makes JVP stand apart from what I would refer to as “normal politics,” and what makes them such a perfect representative of the BDS phenomenon as a whole.

For it you look at their track record, JVP is not willing to accept its role as representatives of minority opinion, but rather desperately seeks to speak in the name of people who do not share those opinions.  This is why they gate crash at events like San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival or the Federation’s Community Heroes Project (sometimes days or weeks after organizing disruptions at events sponsored by the same community they insist they be allowed to join).

This is why they complain endlessly that they are not given immediate membership and equal status to other Jewish groups I places like campus Hillels, despite taking positions that are diametrically opposed to what those groups have chosen to stand for.  Rather than live with the responsibility (and the freedom) of speaking just for themselves (which, as someone representing no one but himself, I can attest has plusses and minuses), their entire project is based on creating the illusion that they speak for a “silent majority,” knowledge of which is being repressed by sinister forces that snuff out all debate about the subjects JVP holds dear.

This is how JVP serves as such a good stand in for BDS as a whole.  For just as JVP is trying to barge into the broader Jewish community in order to get into a position to speak in the name of others, so too does BDS use any means necessarily (such as moral blackmail and back-room maneuvering) to try to get their Israel = Apartheid accusations to come out of the mouth of prominent institutions such as schools, churches and municipalities.  And when they fail (which is always), their response is not to reflect on how they might be able to actually win the argument, but rather to claim anyone who stands in their way (even by simply criticizing their positions) is guilty of censoring (or “muzzling”) them.

The irony is that just as JVP desperately covets everyone else’s civic space, no organization I can think of is more protective of its own.  Joining JVP requires signing of a pledge(which some have deemed a “loyalty oath”) requiring agreement with the overall JVP agenda (including BDS).  And while I have light heartedly played with the idea of doing to them what they try to do to everyone else (i.e., joining their group solely for the purpose of claiming to speak for them), the folks at JVP know full well that those of us who criticize them would never sign such a pledge with the sole purpose of subversion.

I’ve talked quite a bit about how JVP’s (like all BDS organizations) refuse to allow comments (i.e., free-flowing discussion) on their many Web sites (including their Muzzlewatch site which they claim was created specifically to open up dialog).  And even after they announced a programspecifically designed to engage in the conversations they claim Hillel is repressing, they remain stone silent when offered the chance to engage in a real dialog, as opposed to the type of conversation they would prefer in which they get to set themselves up as a rabbinic authority handing down wisdom to the uninformed.

Just like any BDS organization (including, or should I say, especially PennBDS), the last thing groups like JVP want is the discussion and debate they claim desperately to crave.  Rather, they demand that they unconditionally be handed the moral high ground based solely on their claim to stand for “Peace” just as they insist that they be given unquestioned access to community spaces and resources.

And when they don’t get what they want, they scream “censorship,” or claim that their opponents do nothing more than hurl empty accusations of anti-Semitism at them, knowing full well that it is their opponents who truly stand for the openness (not to mention commitment to peace and justice) that single-issue partisan groups like JVP only feign.

Comments Are Free-ky

A colleague runs a Web site called CIFwatch which monitors activity on one of those great Wild Wild West bastions of online debate: the Comment is Free forum hosted by the UK’s Guardian newspaper.

As has been noted previously, Europe has not just been a test-lab for BDS activity but is also a continent where Israel-dislikers routinely probe to see how far they can push the limits of civilized behavior in the name of their political agenda. And in the UK, where intimidation and even violence are part of the anti-Israel toolkit, those with an ax to grind against the Jewish state seen to have found a home at Comment is Free.

This manifests itself in a number of ways, including comments on stories having to do with Israel which attract five to ten times the number of comments on most other pieces, with a higher percentage of moderator deletions than you will find elsewhere at Comment is Free. An extra level of supervision seems to be required for such Israel-related stories, partly to prevent arguments from getting out of hand, but mostly to avoid an embarrassing paper trail of anti-Semitic graffiti that might alert the public about the nature of a large part of the Guardian’s audience.

This Wild Wild West nature of online political discourse goes back to the beginning of the Internet when forums such as UseNet seethed with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories by bizarre characters such as Israel Shahak and Hal Womack. My favorite was a fellow named Joachim Martillo who spent his UseNet years railing against Arabs (which he characterized as uncivilized brutes in need of immediate re-conquest), only to transform into a passionate Jew hater in love with the Palestinian cause in the years (and forums) since.

To a certain extent, advocates for BDS (and their fans) avoid online embarrassment by simply not allowing comments on the many, many sites they manage. For example, when I took part in my last real session of online debate a few years back (at the Jewish Voice for Peace’s Muzzlewatch, a site dedicated to the dubious proposition that anti-Israel points of view – screamed from the rooftops of every campus in the land – is somehow stifled or “muzzled”), the owners of the site eventually became embarrassed both by both their critics and supporters.

You see, critics routinely embarrassed them by pointing out the ridiculousness of their site’s premise and challenging them to defend their positions. And (as at Comment is Free), JVP supporters embarrassed the organization by spewing anti-Jewish bile (including calls for Jews to be deported from the US), providing a window into the soul of JVP/Muzzlewatch’s fan base.

Rather than deal with this problem through a judicious use of moderation, Muzzlewatch simply shut down their comment section entirely under a pretext of avoiding anti-Jewish and anti-Arab hysteria from poisoning discourse (despite the abundance of the former and complete lack of the latter). In addition to avoiding further embarrassment, this allowed them to avoid staring too deeply into the abyss of what their political activity has wrought.

Why bring this up at an anti-BDS site? Well as has been noted before, online commentary is a good barometer regarding how much a community has been poisoned via the importation of the Middle East conflict. And while open forums such as Comment is Free have decided to live with the fallout of creating a discussion of Middle East conflict open to all, other organizations (notably BDS supporters) demonstrate that opening your community up to debate on every issue of the day is purely optional.

In short, every college, every church, every food co-op, every radio station, every civic organization is not required to take a stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict (and, in the process, allow the raw sewerage represented by the hysteria found at CIF to flow unchecked into their community). Despite the fact that the BDSers demand immediate access to the civic space of everyone else, they also demonstrate by their own behavior how protective they are of whatever spaces and forums they control.

So before taking the boycotters seriously when they next insist that your school, your church, your city or town must open up their doors and let photos of bloody babies and accusations of illegality and bigotry be shoved in the face of everyone in your community, keep in mind that a debate over BDS or anything else is purely optional. And just as champions of BDS routinely decide what can and cannot be discussed and debated within their communities, so too your choice of which issues are to given a hearing is just that: your choice.

Berkeley BDS and Democracy

Most of the “by losing, we really won” arguments from the BDSers defeated in last week’s Berkeley divestment battle are like this piece by Jewish Voice for Peace/Muzzlewatch Queen Cecilie Surasky, who substitutes the excitement of getting hundreds of people in a room to bash Israel for ten hours for actual political success. If such arguments rang a hollow ten years ago when groups like JVP begun providing a Jewish face to every BDS initiative on the planet, claiming unstoppable momentum seem positively bizarre after a decade of watching divestment fall flat on its face time and time again.

Now there is one argument the boycotters are making that’s worth dissecting: their claim that they actually won a majority of votes in the Senate (16/20 in the original vote, and 12/20 in the veto override) and should thus be considered the winner of the democratic process (implying that their win was undone by undemocratic political maneuvering by their foes). Not that this argument holds any more water than the other ones they trot out, but it does open up some interesting discussions vis-à-vis BDS and democracy.

For Berkeley’s student government (like the US government) is not an Athenian democracy (where all citizens/students vote on every issue), but is rather, like the US, is a constitutional representative system. Because the word “democracy” is used to describe these very two different kinds of systems, it can get confusing why simple majorities do not always get their way.

Berkeley’s student leaders face the same conundrum as leaders from any representative government: is their responsibility to represent the people who voted for them, or to take positions without knowing what those constituents actually want? Fortunately, most decisions that fall into this latter category are ones where knowing public opinion is not vital. We elect leaders to manage a host of routine issues that requires that these representatives do the work we’d rather not (draft budgets, craft rules and policies, etc.). While not strictly “democratic” in an Athenian sense, trusting leaders to develop the expertise to manage these tasks is certainly more effective than having 35,000 Berkeley students show up the quad to ratify every budget line item by voice vote.

But what happens when the issue under consideration is whether or not Berkeley’s name is going to be used to shore up a political statement about which student leaders cannot claim any unique insight or expertise? For example, can a majority of 20 Senators decide that Israel is guilty of war crimes via a mechanism that will be communicated around the world as the voice of the entire student body? In such cases, Student Senators face a higher threshold regarding knowing the will of the campus before deciding they can represent the conscience of that student body.

So… Do those Student Senators possess (or did they acquire) unique insight into the Middle East conflict or international law before making pronouncements regarding which participant in the former was guilty of violations of the latter? No doubt anyone who gets into Berkeley is extremely clever, but such a description applies to all 35,000 students on that campus, many of whom are enrolled in the #1 or #2 History, Middle East Studies, Political Science, and Law programs in the world. Given this, it’s not clear that the Berkeley Student Senate has more information at its fingertips than 20 students randomly chosen off the quad.

In fact, given the wealth of expertise the Student Senate could have tapped into to inform their decisions, it’s shocking to hear claims that participating in two all nighters consisting mostly of emotive testimony from partisans on both sides of the issue provided the education needed to make decisions on international politics and law in the name of every student on campus.

For a vote of this nature in which the Student Senators were presuming to speak in the name of those they represent, knowing the will of those voters/citizens/students is critical to determining whether such a vote represented 12 or 16 out of 20 (a majority), or 12 or 16 out of 35,000 people with opinions on this matter (a tiny minority).

That being the case, how can the will of the public be determined? Well one could put the whole divestment matter to a campus-wide vote, but this was already dismissed as too expensive. (It also opens up another challenge of whether or not the means to determine which question would be put on a ballot should also be put to a majority vote of the Senate.) Some type of professional survey could help us understand campus opinion better, but that too is expensive and would at best only provide a snapshot.

If ASUC leaders had a mandate for their divestment vote (i.e., had campaigned on this particular issue and won) we would have certainly heard about it during the hours of arguments on the matter (we didn’t). But we do have some electoral data in the form of last week’s ASUC Presidential election which the leader and party most against divestment won handily.

Add to this some substantial anecdotal data (including hundreds of people yelling at each other at marathon ASUC meetings, hundreds of comments appearing in Daily Cal articles and thousands of e-mails directly to student leaders) and I think it’s a fair conclusion that campus opinion on this matter is, at best, bitterly divided. And thus, those 16 or 12 leaders who voted “Yes” to divestment can make no claims to represent anything other than themselves.

And this is where we get to the “constitutional” part of constitutional representative government. For such forms of government provide ways for the public to be heard if and when one part of that government seems to do something that does not represent public will. The veto wielded by an elected President is one such mechanism, as is the high threshold required to overturn a veto. In other words, the outcome last week is an example of student government working to make sure a bitterly divided campus was not represented as having one mind on the Middle East, simply because a dozen Student Senators said it did.

Of course, the whole democracy argument rings a bit hollow from BDS advocates who cried foul when the elected board of directors at the Davis Food Co-op (an organization comparable to the Berkeley Student Senate in every way) rejected their boycott proposals unanimously. In fact, the few temporary successes BDS ever enjoyed (such as with the Presbyterians) only happened because divestment activists successfully appealed directly to leaders behind the backs of the people those leaders represented. I have yet to hear an argument about “democracy denied” by Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine or anyone else when those members rejected divestment by majorities of 90-100%.

As ever, a discussion of divestment and democracy is far more interesting once you can get past the BDS formula which self-servingly states that democracy only manifests itself when they get their way.

Blame Canada

I’m hoping to get to the hundred-post mark sometime in February (which is why you may see some shorter pieces here than usual over the next couple of weeks 😉 ).

Word has it that Carleton University is the next target for the BDS “juggernaut.” “For the past four and a half years, BDS has spread like wildfire,” BDS proponents claim, naturally anchoring their effort to the signature “triumph” at Hampshire College (“The most notable victory came at Hampshire College, where in February 2009, the administration gave in to massive student pressure to divest from six companies complicit in the Israeli occupation.”) Does anyone else want to give them the bad news?

So far, I’ve only had the chance to write something on Carleton here at Muzzlewatch-Watch, but if they manage to stray from the same-old-same-old of 36-page denouncements-by-committee and bombast, you’ll hear about it here first.

Out and About

Well, I’ve been blogging lately, although doing so at other sites. Since the topics are loosely related to divestment, I thought it best to link to them, rather than repost them here.

Apparently, our old friends at Muzzlewatch have decided that they are ready to take their message to the people! Given that a large part of that message is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement supported by Muzzlewatch’s “parent company” Jewish Voice for Peace, I have fun with this newly-discovered populism here.

Meanwhile, the rump of the Gaza Freedom March crew in Boston decided they desperately needed to make themselves seem relevant, given the various fiascos they are still trying to cover up (including stranding thousands of activists in Cairo due to incompetent planning and helping seal the Egyptian-Gaza border even tighter than before they decided to visit and trigger a murderous riot). So what did they do? Why picket the Israeli Consulate of course! A run down and analysis of that event appears here and here.

Muzzlewatch Gets Miffed

Sorry, but I’m going to have to take a day off from exposing the Hampshire divestniks for what they are in order to respond to this hilarious posting from my old friends at Muzzlwatch.

Given that Muzzlewatch, a blog ostensibly created to remove barriers to conversation about the Middle East, no longer tolerates two-way dialog (after shutting down their comments section when the kitchen got too hot), this reply will have to suffice as a rejoinder to Cecilie Surasky’s (the Muzzlewatch/Jewish Voice for Peace point person) hysterical response to a recent decision by the San Francisco Jewish Federation to stop underwriting the demonization of Israel.

The irony-challenged Ms. Surasky has to perform some pretty heavy contortions in order to fit the San Francisco story into a JVP narrative, so allow me to untangle the tale.

As regular readers know, infiltration is a theme I come back to again and again in my anti-divestment writing. Whenever BDS has posted a brief-lived “success” (such as with the Presbyterian Church or the British Teacher’s Union), it’s been because a small group of single-issue partisans have been willing to join an organization and use any means necessary (moral blackmail, parliamentary maneuvering, etc.) to tie an institution’s “brand” to the BDS propaganda message of “Israel = Apartheid,” regardless of the damage it might cause a church or other group in the process.

While many institutions have managed to avoid this type of manipulation, several have not. And the most recent victim was the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival which was hijacked and turned into a propaganda fest where the victimhood of Rachel Corrrie was trumpeted in film and lecture, while supporters of Israel were booed and jeered.

Unsurprisingly, this caused mayhem within the Film Festival organization and opened up enormous rifts within the San Francisco Jewish community. Once Israel’s detractors (including Jewish Voices for Peace) got what they wanted (tying their message to a respected Jewish institution), they were – as usual – not the least bit concerned with the wreckages their reckless activities caused. But once the organized Jewish community (in the form of the local Federation) decided to respond to the matter, there was the same Jewish Voice for Peace using their Muzzlewatch mouthpiece to scream “foul!”

Now consider for a moment the argument being made in Surasky’s piece. JVP is at the forefront of the US boycott, sanctions and divestment movement, which has attached itself at the hip to the goals of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). In other words, their fondest dream is to see Israeli academics shunned by their international colleagues, their papers refused entry into journals, their invitations to conferences revoked, their students refused entry to US and European graduate programs.

Yet while JVP works tirelessly to see Israeli academics and artists censored, they also run Muzzlewatch which exists to accuse anyone of challenging JVP orthodoxy of censorship. In the case of San Francisco, Surasky’s problem is not that the Federation is dragging anyone into court to get them to shut up (as JVP did in Boston). Nor are they hiding from criticism for their decisions (as Muzzlewatch did when they shut down their comments section). Rather, she is furious that the Federation has decided that defamers of Israel no longer have an automatic right to the community’s money.

Normally, the wannabe censors of Muzzlewatch simply hurl their accusations of censorship at those who have the temerity to use their own free speech rights to criticize the political positions of Jewish Voice for Peace. But in this case, their rage rises to the highest pitch I’ve ever seen because another organization that does not share JVP’s opinions refuses to write them checks, and refuses to tolerate a local Jewish film festival being subverted in order to accuse the Jewish state of murder.

At first I thought Surasky’s piece could never sustain the hilarity it achieved when the author was comparing its heroes (Judith Butler the “true academic rock star,” Ronnie Gilbert the former Weaver, and Aurora Levins Morales – both Latina and Jewish!) with the top-hat wearing, moustache-twirling, evil-doers of the Federation. But then she got to the threat (once again: Bogga! Bogga! Bogga!).

For you see it is we (meaning the SF Federation and other supporters of Israel) that are driving good and decent people into the arms of the boycott movement (not the tireless efforts of Jewish Voice for Peace who have been pushing BDS for close to a decade). And if we don’t reconsider and start those checks coming again, we will only have ourselves to blame when JVP keeps doing what it was planning to do anyway.

It’s been a couple of weeks since Halloween, but I can’t help but conjure up the image of one of those ten year olds who decided to costume up by wearing their parents or grandparents clothes. (In this case, I’ve got an image stuck in my head of Surasky and her JVP colleagues dressed in oversize trenchcoats and fedoras, with beards drawn on their face in marker, pretending to be scary gangsters.) “You mind your place Mister Federation Fatcat,” comes the real voice of Jewish Voice for Peace “or you’ll be wearing concrete golashes!”

Fortunately this site still accepts comments, so any Muzzlewatchers are more than free to let me know if I missed anything.

Short Takes

A short post this time (if only because I had the chance to do my usual longer rambling this week at my friend’s blog: a piece on that endless source of comedy: Muzzlewatch).

A couple of other quick notes:

Those wacky divestment-nistas at NYU got their hand caught in the cookie jar (again), this time by trying to pass off their latest Israel-bash fest as a global warming event. Details here. (Perhaps BDS should stand for Bullshit, Deception and Shmuckery).

I’ve been making it a point to comment on any newsite or blog that talks about the Hampshire divestment hoax (the latest one coming up at Brown University, ably countered by local Israel supporters). The number of new references to Hampshire seems to have dried up (even on the BDS blogs) which might indicate that the boycotters are starting to realize that they overplayed their hand at Hampshire, alerting colleges across the country that those asking colleges to review their portfolios for divestment opportunities cannot be trusted.

A local BDS meeting is taking place week after next featuring some of Boston’s oldest (and tiredest) Israel-is-wrong-about-everthing partisand. I’m hoping to attend and, if I do, you my loyal reader will get a full report.

Muzzlewatch Gets Into the Act

About four years ago, controversial reporting over the creation of a mosque in Boston caused the leadership of the mosque to sue various newspapers and individuals responsible for bringing controversy related to mosque to the public’s attention. Details of that story can be found here.

Jewish groups, and individuals and organizations committed to freedom of speech and freedom of the press deplored this attempt to silence mosque critics through “lawfare” (the use of frivolous legal action to bankrupt and stifle critics). One exception was an obscure group called Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) which signed onto the mosque lawsuit, providing an amicus brief in support of the mosque’s suit against its critics.

At the same time JVP was joining in an attempt to silence those who dared bring up troublesome questions in Boston, the same group started a new Web site called MuzzleWatch, committed to the dubious assumption that critics of Israel are routinely stifled by a Jewish political establishment dedicated to silencing anything negative said about the Jewish state.

Visitors to the site’s lively comment section immediately began asking obvious questions, such as how criticism of Israel, shouted from every street corner in the United States, and enshrined as a holy truth on most college campuses (which maintain competing organizations dedicated to exclaiming Palestinian rights and Israel wrongs in all matters, in contrast to Kurds, Tibetans and other suffering people who get virtually no airtime at universities) is somehow being “repressed.”

Muzzlewatch made it a point to never respond to these questions, simply throwing new accusations after their previous ones was effectively countered time and time again.
In most cases, Muzzlewatch defined as “muzzling” any criticism of people who held identical political views as Jewish Voices for Peace. In other words, criticism of Israel (no matter how outlandish or inaccurate) was protected free speech, but other people using their free speech rights to challenge JVP dogma was somehow a form of censorship.

Eventually, the site owners were forced to respond to questions regarding why an organization supposedly dedicated to freedom of expression was joining in a muzzling lawsuit against mosque critics in Boston. After months of stonewalling, the group eventually produced a convoluted argument that tried to make the case that their suit was actually an attempt to open up debate (huh?). Once the ridiculousness of that explanation was exposed, the sites sole defenders ended up being some of Boston’s most notorious anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. The arguments that inevitably broke out gave Muzzlewatch the chance it needed to shut down its comment section, permanently removing any hint of criticism (or dialog) from its little sheltered corner of cyberspace.

While postings to Muzzlewatch (and, I presume, it’s readership) slowed once it transitioned from dialog to diatribe, they still continue to post now and then. And unsurprisingly, they are none too happy with Alan Dershowitz for speaking out with regard to the Hampshire divestment controversy described in a recent entry here on Divest This!.

For some reason, MW is obsessed with Dershowitz, endlessly accusing him of hypocrisy for making outspoken statements against Israel’s critics while maintaining his reputation as a historic civil libertarian. It does not seem to occur to them that Dershowitz’s (or anyone else’s) free speech rights should be afforded the same protection as the even louder loudmouths of JVP.

The free speech argument has always been a dodge for the Divest-nista crowd on campuses and elsewhere. While redefining “free speech” to mean freedom from criticism, the Muzzlewatchers and their supporters never seem to want to draw attention to the threats of violence used to prevent pro-Israeli speakers from appearing on campuses, or their own muzzling lawsuit – i.e., these real examples of censorship – which they either ignore or full throatily champion.